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United Methodist Church votes to lift bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States is changing its rules. It's the United Methodist Church, the church in which I grew up. It held its General Conference in Charlotte, N.C., and it repealed decades-old bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings. Here's NPR's Jason DeRose.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: The vote Wednesday wasn't even close - 692 in favor of repeal, with just 51 delegates voting to keep the ban in place. When the outcome was announced, the room erupted in applause.

(APPLAUSE)

DEROSE: Then, retired Bishop Hope Morgan Ward offered a prayer for unity after the years of division.

HOPE MORGAN WARD: We pray that you would use us as peacemakers and servants in the healing of your world and in the welcoming of all people into the embrace of God.

DEROSE: The outcome of Wednesday's vote wasn't always a sure thing. When the United Methodist Church met in 2019 to discuss LGBTQ issues, many feared the church was heading towards schism, but then the pandemic postponed the 2020 General Conference, and some local jurisdictions simply refused to enforce the LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage bans. Because of those refusals, about one-quarter of United Methodist congregations in the U.S. left the denomination. With the most conservative churches gone, the repeal became more likely. Another factor was a decision made last week that would allow United Methodists in Africa and elsewhere to set their own rules for ministry and marriage rather than have one church-wide policy.

ISRAEL ALVARAN: I feel the church embracing me and affirming my baptism, that I am indeed a child of God.

DEROSE: Reverend Israel Alvaran is a gay Methodist minister in Berkeley, Calif., and an organizer with Reconciling Ministries Network, a group that's worked for these changes for years.

ALVARAN: I believe that this signals a new chapter in the life of the church, sort of turning the page after decades of acrimonious debate, of homophobic and hateful language over the floor of our previous General Conferences.

DEROSE: Many United Methodists hope lifting the bans will allow the denomination to move on and focus its attention on other pressing social issues such as racial justice, poverty and immigration reform.

Jason DeRose, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jason DeRose
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.